Four candidates trade blows in first presidential election debate

Four candidates trade blows in first presidential election debate
Presidential candidates Gavin Duffy, Liadh Ní Riada, Joan Freeman and Peter Casey with presenter Aine Lawlor at RTÉ studios today. Photo: Julien Behal Photography

The opening debate of the race for Áras an Uachtaráin has seen candidates trade blows and outline their ambitions to be the nation's first citizen.

Donors, the president's salary, a border poll, US president Donald Trump and the Irish language were some of the topics raised during the first debate of the contest on RTÉ radio.

Independent Senator Joan Freeman confirmed she had received a loan of €120,000 from a businessman named Des Walsh who lives in Los Angeles. The loan complied with the race rules, she said.

She also insisted that she was representing the ordinary voter, as she lived in a semi-detached house, had a mortgage and drove an ordinary car.

In contrast, businessmen Peter Casey and Gavin Duffy traded blows over their wealth as well as the level of the president's salary they would draw down.

Mr Casey, while also saying he would welcome US president to Ireland, called him a “serial womaniser and an abuser”. Other candidates said they would raise issues with Mr Trump.

Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada said she supported the use of the HPV vaccine but also criticised the media for asking if her children would take the vaccine. She called for privacy for them while also saying she was “fully in favour” of the vaccine after having “seen cancer close up.”

The issue of the border poll for the North prompted different responses from the candidates, with a number saying any support for such a vote should be led by the government of the day.

There was also criticism of President Michael D Higgins for not attending the debate as well as businessman Sean Gallagher. Fellow Dragons' Den star Peter Casey said it was “disgraceful”.

Earlier, President Michael D Higgins attended an opening of a students centre in Dublin City University. He used his speech to focus on young people's mental health, the arts and new communities in Ireland.

However, due to diary commitments today, the incumbent declined to participate in the RTÉ debate.

Fellow contender and businessman Sean Gallagher also did not participate and said he would only do debates with all candidates. He claimed RTÉ could have consulted more about planning the debate.

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